Reviews of Variations for Cello and Chamber Ensemble:
"Crumb has written a…little essay that manages a graceful fusion of lush sonorities and faux-romantic harmonies within a taut, progressive structure. The basic tone is sweet, even when the inherent accents are not. The voice of the solo cello functions as part of an agitated ensemble, breaks loose in an effusive cadenza, and finally leads the way to an elegiac benediction."
Martin Bernheimer [Los Angeles Times]
"Crumb's six-year-old piece is a winner. Any cellist would be glad to get his fingers on Variations, which takes about a half-hour to perform and conveys so particular and gripping a sound world one is hardly aware of time passing. The music begins with a tremulous motif. A harp plucks back an answer. From this, the cello finds its theme, stretching high and sustaining a phrase whose strange beauty concludes on a slight dissonance. Gradually, other instruments enter the discourse. Colors become more vibrant, as the cello alters and argues its theme. Momentum builds, and suddenly a burst of percussion and woodwinds, a clamoring chaos that suggests Stravinsky's Petrushka. It's a wonderful moment because it catches us by surprise. Up to this happy climax, the music has sounded gravely searching."
Lesley Valdes [Philadelphia Inquirer]
"The night's other big solo work was David Crumb's Variations for Cello and Chamber Ensemble, which basks in tonal language of appealing vibrancy and poetic appeal. The variations mix flavors of American folk idioms and other influences. You might discern a hint of Copland here and Stravinsky there, but Crumb's animated unfolding of materials has a forceful voice of its own."
Donald Rosenberg [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
"Crumb's 1993 Variations for Cello and Chamber Ensemble is the major prize on the disc…how can you argue with its intoxicating range of instrumental color?"
David Patrick Stearns [Philadelphia Inquirer]
"It would be nice to know if David Crumb is related to George Crumb, who has often been recorded in this series. His Variations for cello and chamber orchestra are colorfully orchestrated, which suggests George, while both idiom and instrumentation are traditional compared with the rest of this generally spiky program. They are expressive and beautiful…
[American Record Guide]
"[Crumb's] 1993 Variations is a glowing work, sumptuous in its sound. Crumb definitely has a lyric sense related to his father's, and certain melodic formulae from non-Western scales trigger memories of George Crumb's music. The same goes for the full color palette, especially the ecstatic percussion writing. But David Crumb also tends to evoke a fuller orchestra sound, deliberately less tinged by silence. The music moves seamlessly from variation to variation (and the form itself is stretched to the limit, as the "theme" is over four minutes long and multisectional to begin with), and projects a Romantic spirit without sounding like a rehash of any precise previous music."
Robert Carl [Fanfare]
"The final and perhaps most accessible work for the listener on this recording is David Crumb's Variations for Cello and Chamber Ensemble (1993). Despite its time-tested form, involving nine variations and tonal materials, this work is far from pedestrian. Crumb claims he is not interested in reiterating the past, and proves this claim throughout this 21-minute work. Rather than being representative of the past, Crumb simply nods at his predecessors. A total blend of styles is artfully displayed in this set of variations. Not only does it display the sometimes overly romantic style of the 19th century but seems to pay homage to the 20th century, as wellnot as a classification for Crumb's work, but out of respect for what went before. The composer seems to be clearly separating himself from the past by simply acknowledging that these movements did exist.
The theme opens with the sweetest, most soulful flute passage imaginable, its notes dripping with sonority, letting the listener know these are not traditional variations. In fact, the cello seems to emerge form the ensemble with each passing variation. This is, for sure, highly virtousic music which undergoes a dramatic personality changefrom Bach-like solos, to rustic folk-like tunes, to sappy romanticism. The seventh variation is a cello cadenza, which appropriately seems to represent the melodramatic role of the 19th century soloist. The piece is a true amalgamation of musical styles…"
Laurie Hudicek [New Music Connoiseur]